Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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“Blue enough for ya?”

Male Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis.

Image: Dave Rintoul, KSU [larger view].


Birds and Dads News

I stop for pileated woodpeckers. That’d be my life’s bumper sticker. These days, I know my birds. Not because I ever saw them as a kid, but because on the way home from hikes with my dad, I’d grab his Golden field guide, Birds of North America, and read up on what we just spent the whole day not seeing. Pileated, by the way, means capped, a reference to its distinctive triangular red crest. Woody Woodpecker was a pileated woodpecker. GrrlScientist comment: this is a really sweet essay in honor of Father’s Day.

Birds in Science

A new genetic family tree of the UK’s birds may help predict which will see their populations decline in future. The family tree — or phylogenetic map — shows how closely species are related. The scientist who compiled it, Gavin Thomas, found that populations of closely related species tend to undergo declines more or less in step. “This hasn’t been tested on the ground, so we don’t know at the moment whether the inferences we’re making turn out to be true,” Dr Thomas said. GrrlScientist comment: I have been trying to get a copy of this paper so I can read it carefully and write about it on my blog. In short, I am unconvinced that this situation is anything more than an anomaly, but cannot make a more coherent comment until I’ve actually read the paper.

Pigeons have been credited with having similar levels of ‘intelligence’ as those found in a three-year-old child, a study from Japan claims. The pigeons were shown footage of themselves and scientists say they can tell the difference between live video images and previously recorded images. Each bird was shown live footage of itself with a delay of between five and seven seconds. Professor Shigeru Watanabe of Keio University in Toyko, which carried out the pigeon study, said: “The pigeon could discriminate the present self-image and the recorded self-image of the past with a few seconds delay, which means that the pigeon has self-cognitive abilities.”

In typical bird copulation, males and females momentarily press together their cloacas — genital openings — in what biologists call a cloacal kiss. A muscled tongue-like projection called a cloacal tip, spotted for the first time in males of several species of Australian wrens, means this might be more like a French kiss. Based on the alignment of the muscles, the cloacal tips seem able to wiggle from side to side, which might stimulate females and encourage them to take up and retain the males’ sperm.

People Hurting Birds

More than a million birds, most of them migratory, were killed in Cyprus in the past year and served up as local culinary delicacies, conservationists said recently. Songbirds are a popular dish on the east Mediterranean island, which lies on a key migratory route. Although trapping and consumption is banned, they are still served up in some restaurants, say wildlife campaigners. “Unless decisive action is taken the future will be bleak for Europe’s migrant birds,” said Martin Hellicar, executive director of the BirdLife charity in Cyprus. GrrlScientist comment: does anyone else think it is sadly ironic that birders who go to Cyprus have a reasonably good chance of being served migratory songbirds on a platter that they were unable to see alive?

An angry boat owner used a pole to knock down as many as 30 bird nests, killing 186 swallows, at Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City, police said. Officers said federal charges could be filed against whoever knocked down the nests at a dock along the Lake Hefner marina. Under the Federal Migratory Bird Act, anybody found guilty of killing the birds could face a fine of $500 for each bird killed. GrrlScientist comment: I hope they convict this stupid stupid man and fine him $500 for every bird he killed — but I’ll bet you that this will not happen!

Lesser prairie chickens have been reduced to a fraction of their population across five states, says a conservation group that is ratcheting up the pressure on the federal government to provide more protection for the rare bird. “It’s been 10 years to the day that the Fish and Wildlife Service had admitted that it needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act. But here we are 10 years later without any formal legal protections under this law for this rare and declining bird,” said Nicole Rosmarino, director of the Santa Fe-based group’s wildlife program.

Dozens of dead penguins and others alive but with traces of oil appeared over the weekend along the east of Uruguay according to a marine life conservation non government organization (NGO). The discovery comes a few days after a collision between two cargo vessels in the River Plate caused an oil spill 20 kilometers long by thirty meters wide. “Since the penguins found dead on several beaches have a good normal weight we are almost convinced that the cause must be linked to the recent oil spill which originally the winds were pushing out to sea but the change of weather has brought back to a few miles from the coast”, said Richard Tesore who runs the NGO Marine Fauna Rescue volunteers.

Common swifts, the fast-flying summer visitors which are among Britain’s most extraordinary birds, are being renovated out of existence. Their traditional nesting places in roofs and eaves are rapidly vanishing as older houses and other structures are upgraded — while newer buildings, especially those in steel and glass, provide no space whatsoever. Swifts come from Africa to breed in Britain every year and stay for the shortest period of any migrant — arriving in May and leaving as early as mid-July. Their distinctive arrowhead silhouette in the sky is seen by many people as a symbol of summer.

People Helping Birds

This past Tuesday, keepers at the Oregon Zoo celebrated the arrival of spring’s fifth and final hatchling California condor. The next day, they mourned the loss of another — an ailing month-old chick that died during emergency surgery. Because California condors are critically endangered, each hatch brings the species closer to recovery, and each loss is keenly felt, said Shawn St. Michael, the zoo’s condor curator.

A five-year program will preserve about 90 acres of grassland at the Florida Business Park while biologists monitor the site for bird species considered “at risk” by the state of New York. Biologists were making a site visit to review wetland boundaries at the Florida Business Park last October when a northern harrier, listed as threatened in New York, flew overhead looking for food. The northern harrier is among 12 grassland bird species considered “at risk” by the state. “As a result of identifying it there, the state wanted us to do some survey work through the fall and through the winter to see whether this species was present just once or twice,” said Christopher R. Einstein, ecology operations manager at Clough, Harbour.

The 12th meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) last week (June 7-11) in Muscat, Oman has struck a major step forward for seabird conservation by adopting a measure to reduce the bycatch of vulnerable albatross and petrel species. All longline vessels fishing for tuna and swordfish in the southern Indian Ocean (south of 30°S) will be required to use a combination of at least two measures to reduce seabird bycatch. Measure include requiring boats to set their hooks at night when birds are less active, using a bird streamer (tori) line to keep birds away from the hooks, adding weight to lines to make them sink more quickly out of reach of the albatrosses, and dyeing bait blue to make it less visible. The fisheries are given flexibility to choose which two measures from this list are most suitable to their fishery.

Rare Bird News

A rare hen harrier under 24-hour surveillance in Northumberland, UK, has died. The bird was the last to hatch in a nest of six youngsters at a secret location in North Tynedale. It vanished from the nest it shared with its siblings last week and is thought to have died over night. Bird experts say the most likely reason is that it was unable to compete against its older siblings for food. Its death is a disappointment for the RSPB and Forestry Commission who continue to keep a round-the-clock watch on the rest of the birds in the only known hen harrier nest in Northumberland.

A rare bird not seen around Melbourne, Australia, since 1988 has turned up in the jaws of a hunting dog near Werribee. The hunter handed the bird, a male plains wanderer, to the Melbourne Museum, which is preparing it for its ornithology collection. Chris Tzaros, conservation manager with Birds Australia, said that despite the circumstances of the discovery, it was good news for the species — which is listed as critically endangered in Victoria. “They’re totally off-limits to hunters,” Mr Tzaros said. “However, this responsible hunter is to be commended for actually handing the specimen in to the museum.”

Bird Zoonotics News

A type of avian flu that is common in birds and rarely caught by humans, the North American Avian H7 influenza virus, is acquiring transmission properties similar to human influenza, according to a new study by US researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based in Atlanta. Most cases of avian flu in humans come from contact with infected birds or objects they have contaminated. But viruses are constantly changing, which is why scientists are always tracking them.

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been identified in domestic poultry in Hong Kong and Indonesia and in humans in Indonesia (who now refuses to report H5N1 deaths).

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 15 June 2008. BirdNotes can be heard seven mornings per week at 8:58-9:00am throughout Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia, Canada, on KPLU radio in Seattle, KOHO radio in Wenatchee, WA, WNPR radio in Connecticut, KWMR radio in West Marin, California, KTOO radio in Juneau, Alaska, and KMBH radio in Harlingen, Texas. All episodes are available in the BirdNote archives, both in written transcript and mp3 formats, along with photographs, so you can listen to them anytime, anywhere. Listener ideas and comments are welcomed. [Podcast and rss].

Bird Publications News

This week’s issue of the Birdbooker Report lists ecology, evolution, natural history and bird books that are (or will soon be) available for purchase.

Would you like an avian anatomy book — free? If so, you can download one, two or all three books as PDFs by going to this entry, where you can read about the books that are available and choose your free copies. Note that each book must be uploaded to someone’s computer at least once every 90 days, or the file will be automatically deleted by RapidShare, so please share this link with your friends.

You will be pleased to know that volumes 1-35 (1970-2004) of journal, Western Birds, are permanently archived and fully searchable online. The service is free to the public, and is made available by Western Field Ornithologists (WFO) and the Searchable Ornithological Research Archive (SORA). Note that there are a bunch of ornithological journals that are both browsable and searchable at that site.

Miscellaneous Bird News

Lots of women love their facials, but the newest rage in skin care may be a little hard on your stomach. It’s called the geisha facial and the special ingredient is bird droppings — nightingales to be exact. The poop comes in powdered form, which is UV sterilized, mixed with water then brushed on the skin. The facial is gaining popularity in New York City, and women are willing to at least give it a try. “This is a first for me, I’ve had the microdermabrasions and the brightenings but this is the first time I’ve ever tried poop,” said Mindy Lubel, a customer. GrrlScientist comment: Japan has nightingales??

Some 17 breeding pairs of peregrine falcons live in the city, their nests perched on skyscrapers and bridges. In a long-term joint effort, city and state biologists are identifying, monitoring and studying the falcons, which nearly faced extinction in the 1960s from the pesticide DDT. But falcon aficionados have a nonscientist to thank for the Webcam in the marbled lobby of 55 Water Street. His name is Frank Magnani, and he is the building manager. “Everyone asks about the birds — we call them the 55 Water Street mascots,” said Orlando Burgos, whose station is the front desk.

Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the Emirates Bird Records Committee (EBRC) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will give EAD access to nearly a quarter of a million reports of wild birds seen in the United Arab Emirates since the late 1960s. Under the agreement, EAD’S records of wild birds will be integrated into the EBRC database, providing EAD with one of the most extensive national databases of wild bird records in the Arabian Peninsula. “We are delighted to have reached agreement with the EBRC on ways in which we can work together to ensure the long term conservation of our wild birds, which are crucial indicators for the health of the country’s environment and wildlife”, said EAD Secretary General Majid Al Mansouri.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Ted, Caren, Bob, Ellen, Jeremy and Ron for sending story links. Thanks in advance to Ian Paulsen for catching my typos; as you probably know by now, I put a few typographical errors in these documents just so Ian can find them!

Comments

  1. #1 Bob O'H
    June 16, 2008

    I have been trying to get a copy of this paper so I can read it carefully and write about it on my blog.

    Is that a subtle hint I see? Well, I’ve retaliated by filling Grrlscientist’s inbox with a pdf.

  2. #2 "GrrlScientist"
    June 16, 2008

    moochas smoochas, bob!

  3. CUT THE CHAIN OF INFECTIONS !

    Spread of avian flu by drinking water:

    Proved awareness to ecology and transmission is necessary to understand the spread of avian flu. For this it is insufficient exclusive to test samples from wild birds, poultry and humans for avian flu viruses. Samples from the known abiotic vehicles also have to be analysed. There are plain links between the cold, rainy seasons as well as floods and the spread of avian flu. That is just why abiotic vehicles have to be analysed. The direct biotic transmission from birds, poultry or humans to humans can not depend on the cold, rainy seasons or floods. Water is a very efficient abiotic vehicle for the spread of viruses – in particular of fecal as well as by mouth, nose and eyes excreted viruses.

    Infected birds and poultry can everywhere contaminate the drinking water. All humans have very intensive contact to drinking water. Spread of avian flu by drinking water can explain small clusters in households too. Proving viruses in water is difficult because of dilution. If you find no viruses you can not be sure that there are not any. On the other hand in water viruses remain viable for a long time. Water has to be tested for influenza viruses by cell culture and in particular by the more sensitive molecular biology method PCR.

    There is a widespread link between avian flu and water, e.g. in Egypt to the Nile delta or Indonesia to residential districts of less prosperous humans with backyard flocks and without central water supply as in Vietnam: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol12no12/06-0829.htm. See also the WHO web side: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/emerging/h5n1background.pdf .

    Transmission of avian flu by direct contact to infected poultry is an unproved assumption from the WHO. There is no evidence that influenza primarily is transmitted by saliva droplets: “Transmission of influenza A in human beings” http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473309907700294/abstract?iseop=true .

    Avian flu infections may increase in consequence to increase of virus circulation. In hot climates/the tropics flood-related influenza is typical after extreme weather and floods. Virulence of influenza viruses depends on temperature and time. Special in cases of local water supplies with “young” and fresh H5N1 contaminated water from low local wells, cisterns, tanks, rain barrels, ponds, rivers or rice paddies this pathway can explain small clusters in households. At 24°C e.g. in the tropics the virulence of influenza viruses in water amount to 2 days. In temperate climates for “older” water from central water supplies cold water is decisive to virulence of viruses. At 7°C the virulence of influenza viruses in water amount to 14 days.

    Human to human and contact transmission of influenza occur – but are overvalued immense. In the course of influenza epidemics in Germany, recognized clusters are rare, accounting for just 9 percent of cases e.g. in the 2005 season. In temperate climates the lethal H5N1 virus will be transferred to humans via cold drinking water, as with the birds in February and March 2006, strong seasonal at the time when drinking water has its temperature minimum.

    The performance to eliminate viruses from the drinking water processing plants regularly does not meet the requirements of the WHO and the USA/USEPA. Conventional disinfection procedures are poor, because microorganisms in the water are not in suspension, but embedded in particles. Even ground water used for drinking water is not free from viruses.

    http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=26096&Cr=&Cr1
    Ducks and rice [paddies = flooded by water] major factors in bird flu outbreaks, says UN agency
    Ducks and rice fields may be a critical factor in spreading H5N1
    26 March 2008 – Ducks, rice [fields, paddies = flooded by water! Farmers on work drink the water from rice paddies!] and people – and not chickens – have emerged as the most significant factors in the spread of avian influenza in Thailand and Viet Nam, according to a study carried out by a group of experts from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and associated research centres.

    “Mapping H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza risk in Southeast Asia: ducks, rice and people” also finds that these factors are probably behind persistent outbreaks in other countries such as Cambodia and Laos.
    The study, which examined a series of waves of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza in Thailand and Viet Nam between early 2004 and late 2005, was initiated and coordinated by FAO senior veterinary officer Jan Slingenbergh and just published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
    Through the use of satellite mapping, researchers looked at a number of different factors, including the numbers of ducks, geese and chickens, human population size, rice cultivation and geography, and found a strong link between duck grazing patterns and rice cropping intensity.

    In Thailand, for example, the proportion of young ducks in flocks was found to peak in September-October; these rapidly growing young ducks can therefore benefit from the peak of the rice harvest in November-December [at the beginning of the cold: Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos are situated - different from Indonesia - in the northern hemisphere].

    “These peaks in congregation of ducks indicate periods in which there is an increase in the chances for virus release and exposure, and rice paddies often become a temporary habitat for wild bird species,” the agency said in a news release.

    “We now know much better where and when to expect H5N1 flare-ups, and this helps to target prevention and control,” said Mr. Slingenbergh. “In addition, with virus persistence becoming increasingly confined to areas with intensive rice-duck agriculture in eastern and south-eastern Asia, evolution of the H5N1 virus may become easier to predict.”

    He said the findings can help better target control efforts and replace indiscriminate mass vaccination.
    FAO estimates that approximately 90 per cent of the world’s more than 1 billion domestic ducks are in Asia, with about 75 per cent of that in China and Viet Nam. Thailand has about 11 million ducks.

    Dipl.-Ing. Wilfried Soddemann – Epidemiologist – Free Science Journalist soddemann-aachen@t-online.de http://www.dugi-ev.de/information.html

  4. #4 gladio
    June 17, 2008

    I don’t know if Japan has nightingales per se, but at least in Spain you can buy songbirds commonly called ‘ruiseñores de Japón’ (‘Japanese nightingales’), which as far as I can tell are not nightingales at all, so I asume it might be the same bird.

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